Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mr. Nutter is NOT the education Mayor

Philadelphia mayor, Mr. Nutter, has the audacity to say that the union is too focused on the contract, or lack of. So many issues with this comment!

1. The TEACHERS are the ones currently keeping the school district together. They are providing the glue, duct tape, staples, and paper clips needed to somehow teach without books, supplies, prep times, oversize classes, etc. If it weren't for the sacrifices of time, energy and financial resources of its teachers, the school district would NOT function.

2. The teachers call on the union to protect their rights as union members and make sure our working conditions are conducive to learning. Right now they are NOT.

  • Oversized classes, some over 50 kids in a class were more prevalent this year than anytime I can recall. We level classes in October, and this year it was way too long to wait, as teachers didn’t have enough chairs or even ANY books to distribute.  Those who photocopied texts for their extra students found they had to provide their own toner, paper and sometimes go to STAPLES to do their own copying. No books, no chairs, no supplies, but they want to evaluate teachers on how well their students do on a test?   Through contract language, the Union makes sure class sizes and  rules governing them are reasonable.
  • As noted above, there are literally NO books for some areas and teachers are encouraged to get what they can off the internet. But unless every kid has a working computer, it’s not possible. There are no supplies for science labs or other subjects that require equipment. The union contract has language that specifies the need for books and supplies.
  • Some schools have no Biology teachers or Algebra teachers even though the state currently requires they pass Biology and Algebra to graduate. The union contract specifies the need for the proper certification for teachers and filling spaces ASAP with qualified teachers. Many of the vacancies now unfilled were known about in June but the School district did not try to fill them over the summer. Instead they hired a “Talent” recruiter who makes a tidy sum but can’t find any talent apparently.
  • Cutting the custodial staff has resulted in dirty schools, and some unhealthy schools don’t have needed repairs made to be healthy. Mold and mildew collect on walls that need pointing or are wet because the roof leaks. My old school had only ONE working water fountain for 500 kids, and it wasn’t air-conditioned. Our union contract stipulates at LEAST one working water fountain and working toilets, room temperatures conducive to learning and requirements to move the class if the temps get above or below those levels. Why such specificity? Because in the 70s and 80s those things were not guaranteed.
  •  Our union contract calls for a desk and chair for every teacher, a locked closet for personal belongings, a private space for both the nurse and counselor. Why? Because it wasn’t the case at some point in time.
3. Our union contract says that people should be rehired according to seniority after they’ve been laid off. The recent mass lay-offs of nurses, counselors, and secretaries went horribly because seniority rules were not followed. Nurses and counselors who were committed to the school district and were cognizant of the problems of the children in their schools, found themselves somewhere else, or not being called back at all. Now, new hires have quit and they are having a problem filling the positions. Gee, who would want to come back and be abused once more after being told their job was superfluous?
4. Same goes for teachers. There’s no wonder that there is a teacher shortage. Teachers with seniority are not consulted, honored, or listened to regarding what works for the students in their care. The new teachers don’t have enough experience to know how to deal with the more challenging behaviors they encounter and most quit before they have become good at their craft. The older teachers are expected to disregard what they know about child development and adopted the unproven methods of reformers. Even when they can prove the methods don’t work, they are ignored and harassed. No wonder no one wants to teach in Philly. Our union wrote hiring, layoff, and rehiring language into the contract because it was needed.
5. The School Reform Commission (SRC) cancelled our contract in 2012 and refused to honor step increases or increases in salary for those who attained Masters or Doctoral degrees. The school District claims they want highly qualified teachers and then turns their back when it comes time for recognizing the qualifications. Teachers here do not get reimbursed for tuition in obtaining degrees or certification. We are fighting the cancellation of our contract in the courts and hope it will be reinstated in our favor.
So, Mr. Nutter, why is our union so concentrated on negotiating a contract? Because our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. Right now, the city and state are continuing to demonstrate that they have no regard for either children or adults in the Philadelphia School District. Our district has no power to raise money and we rely on the city and state to fund our schools. With no elected school board and no politician committed to our plight, it’s up to the union to get the support needed for its members.
Remember, the union IS the body of teachers working to hold things together in the schools as the city, state, and federal governments, and the corporate reformers just keep putting more obstacles in our way.

Still learning!

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